Depression is a common mental health problem that causes people to experience low mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration.

An estimated 1 in 6 people experienced a common mental disorder in the past week,1 with 3.3% of aged 16 and over in England, Scotland and Wales estimated to experience depression in the past week.2


Depression symptoms may vary among people but generally encompass a feeling of sadness or hopelessness. These can include3:

  • Tiredness and loss of energy
  • Sadness that doesn’t go away
  • Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable of interesting
  • Feeling anxious all the time
  • Avoiding other people, sometimes even your close friends
  • Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • Sleeping problems – difficulties in getting off to sleep or waking up much earlier than usual
  • Very strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Finding it hard to function at work/college/school
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of sex drive and/or sexual problems
  • Physical aches and pains
  • Thinking about suicide and death
  • Self-harm

Depression symptoms can vary in severity, from mild to moderate to severe depression. If you experience symptoms of depression for most of the day – every day – for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP.


Depression is a complex condition and its causes are not fully understood. However, various contributing factors can lead to depression. These can include biological factors (for example, genetics4 or experience of physical illness or injury5) and psychological or social factors (experiences dating back to childhood6, unemployment7, bereavement8, or life-changing events9 such as pregnancy. Having a long-standing or life-threatening illness, such as heart disease, back pain or cancer, has been associated with an increased risk of depression10.

Getting support:

Common treatment approaches for depression include talking therapies and medication.

Talking therapies

Talking therapies involve speaking in confidence to a trained professional about problems or issues that may be causing concern. Types of talking therapies include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling and psychotherapy, and your GP can advise you about which approach you may find most helpful.


Another treatment option for depression is to take antidepressants. These can be taken on their own or in conjunction with talking therapies.

There are various types of antidepressants available and you can speak with your GP about what might suit you best. If one medication does not work, you may be prescribed something else. It is important that you take the medicine for the length of time recommended by your GP.

For more information about antidepressants, please see NHS Choices.

Other options

Your treatment approach will be informed by the severity of your depression. Those with mild to moderate depression may benefit from talking therapies whilst people experiencing moderate to severe depression may find antidepressants or combination therapy to be more appropriate. There are other treatment options beyond medication and talking therapies. For instance, people with mild depression might find exercise, self-help or mental health apps to be helpful.3

If you have depression, it is important to speak with your GP or care provider for more detail and to discuss which treatment may be most appropriate for you.

Further Resources and Information

This page was last updated on 01/12/2018.



  1. Stansfield, S., Clark, C., Bebbington, P., King, M., Jenkins, R. & Hinchliffe, S. (2018) Common mental disorders. Retrieved from the UK Parliament Website:
  2. NHS Digital (2016) Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014. Retrieved from:
  3. NHS Choices (2016) Clinical Depression. Retrieved from
  4. Flint, J., & Kendler, K. (2014). The Genetics of Major Depression. Neuron, 81(5), 1214. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2014.02.033
  5. Moussavi, S., Chatterji, S., Verdes, E., Tandon, A., Patel, V., & Ustun, B. (2007). Depression, chronic diseases, and decrements in health: results from the World Health Surveys. The Lancet, 370(9590), 851-858. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(07)61415-9
  6. Infurna, M., Reichl, C., Parzer, P., Schimmenti, A., Bifulco, A., & Kaess, M. (2016). Associations between depression and specific childhood experiences of abuse and neglect: A meta-analysis. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 190, 47-55. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.09.006
  7. Lerner, D., Adler, D., Chang, H., Lapitsky, L., Hood, M., & Perissinotto, C. et al. (2004). Unemployment, Job Retention, and Productivity Loss Among Employees With Depression. Psychiatric Services, 55(12), 1371-1378. doi: 10.1176/
  8. Fried, E., Bockting, C., Arjadi, R., Borsboom, D., Amshoff, M., & Cramer, A. et al. (2015). From loss to loneliness: The relationship between bereavement and depressive symptoms. Journal Of Abnormal Psychology, 124(2), 256-265. doi: 10.1037/abn0000028
  9. Kendler, K., & Gardner, C. (2016). Depressive vulnerability, stressful life events and episode onset of major depression: a longitudinal model. Psychological Medicine, 46(09), 1865-1874. doi: 10.1017/s0033291716000349
  10. Singer, A., Meeker, D., Teno, J., Lynn, J., Lunney, J., & Lorenz, K. (2015). Symptom Trends in the Last Year of Life From 1998 to 2010. Annals Of Internal Medicine, 162(3), 175. doi: 10.7326/m13-1609